By Jesse Ashkin, University of Maryland Class of 2011
This past spring I was standing in line at the campus bookstore waiting to buy my cap and gown with my best friend and roommate for 3 years. Right as I was being rung up, Green Day’s Time of Your Life came on the overhead radio speakers and I started to cry. Until then, I had tried to stay strong, mainly by way of denial, but the looming fact of graduating and leaving this amazing world became all too real, and it finally hit me that College was about to be over.
All parents hope their child’s college experience will be full of the kinds of friendships, memories, and life experiences that mine was and that, hopefully, they remember from their own college days.
So, parents, looking back, here are my suggestions for you to consider as you prepare to send your kids off to begin their freshman year, and the best four years of their lives. (Cliché, yes, but come on, you know they are.)
- Give them space. I went to the University of Maryland, a mere forty-five minute trip down 95, but my parents always said, we are going to treat you as if you are 3 hours away, no matter where you go to school. This gave me the sense of space and freedom I wanted and needed in order to mature and become more of the person I am today.
- Facebook. These days, everyone has one, kids and parents alike. If your child was kind enough to accept your friend request and give you full access to his photos and posts, do not abuse this privilege. Don’t stalk your child and constantly bring up things you may read or see on his Facebook page. It’s time to trust that you have prepared your child with the abilities to make smart decisions, but also to deal with the consequences of his own actions. And honestly, would you want your child to have access and know about all of your college night photos and events? Didn’t think so.
- Let them contact you. Don’t be the Mom or Dad who is constantly calling or texting your children. They’ll begin to get annoyed, you will hear from them less and less, and they will be more hesitant to share exciting news with you. If you’re worried that you will never hear from them, don’t. College students will find themselves needing to hear the familiar voice of Mom or Dad while walking from class to class, in need of study breaks, or before bed or a night out.
- Make them stick it out. It truly takes a full year for most people to adjust comfortably into the college lifestyle. If your child is not having the time of her life and is begging to come home or transfer closer, don’t let her give up that easily. Encourage her to stick it out for the full year. It’s amazing how much difference one semester can make in a student’s overall perspective and experience at college. Don’t rush in and rescue your child, and don’t make it easy for her to run home when she might have roommate or other issues.
- Offer suggestions, but encourage them to work through it themselves. These are the lessons that aren’t taught in lecture halls and will ultimately prepare them for the transfer from college life into the real world. Classes change each semester, so they might find a new group of friends in the spring, who make them feel comfortable and give them a better home-base feeling, rather than the ones they met on their dorm floor and out at parties first semester. Also, sorority and fraternity rush, which takes place at most schools in the spring, can be a great way for your son or daughter to make those friendships that make them feel a part of a group and more comfortable in the larger campus community – bonds that can last a lifetime.
- Talk money before. Let your child know how you are going to be supporting or contributing financially, well in advance of move-in day. Are you giving him a monthly allowance? Does he need to get a job to support his own activities? Parents should discuss this with their children before sending them off so they can plan ahead better, know the funds they are working with and what they are able to participate in. Also, look into banks in the area that have the most conveniently accessible ATMs and branches for your child to get to, especially since most freshmen do not have access to their cars.
- Start now to prepare them with skills to stand on their own two feet. Teach them how to do laundry. You could create a cheat sheet with directions to follow during the first few weeks of school, as my Dad did, and even provide a container of quarters to cover laundry expenses for the first weeks. Encourage them to set up their own doctor’s appointments; teach them how to deposit and write checks and how to check their account online. If they start learning to manage their own lives and absorb some of the responsibilities they have relied on you for, they will handle the independence better when they start college.
- Encourage them to smile. The thing that I loved so much about my freshman year was all the people I was constantly meeting! Some of them became my best friends, and some were acquaintances I’d see at parties, in the dining hall, or in classes. Especially during freshman year, everyone is new to the environment and looking to make those unrivaled bonds of friendship that they’ve heard older siblings, parents, and friends talk about. The diversity in a college community helps expose your children to all kinds of people from different areas and backgrounds. They can learn so much about themselves just by keeping an open mind and a positive attitude, which allows them to open up to people they had never imagined being close with. This for me is when peer influences took on a positive connotation. I learned and gained so much from my friendships with others, and this helped shape me into the person I am today.
- Be safe, have fun, make friends, have fun, study, have fun. These words of advice are a combination of what my parents told me as they got into the elevator after helping me move into my freshman dorm four years ago. My Mom reminded me that I was here ultimately to learn, study, and graduate with a degree. My Dad continued to interject, “Yes, but have fun.” College is a time like no other. Your kids will meet their best friends that they will keep for life, they’ll just barely pass a class at least once, and they’ll discover what truly excites and interests them, both in the coursework and lecture halls, and out of them. And, yes, while it is important to study hard and be safe throughout their next four years, it’s also important for them to enjoy the ride and make everlasting memories.
Now that I have graduated, and as I look for a job in the Graphic Design and Marketing field, I know that the ways my parents prepared me for the transition to college, along with the freedom they gave me, have truly prepared me for this next leap into the real world. I hope that when your children are sitting in their cap and gown, waiting to be called up to receive their diplomas, they can look back at their college experience and say that they too had the time of their life.
By Jesse Ashkin, University of Maryland Class of 2011
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